ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline, Exercises to Improve Speed: Training That Benefits Everyone

Exercises to Improve Speed: Training That Benefits Everyone

Reading Time: 5 minutes 30 seconds


Date: 2022-04-01

If you have clients interested in speed, they’re probably runners. Competing in races and going for personal best times are great motivational tools for fitness. Your clients with the drive to do what it takes to get faster are fun to work with and make your job a little easier. 

There are plenty of exercises to help them improve speed, but don’t restrict these workouts to your driven, runner clients. 

Those who like to play pick up soccer games in the park; the clients who need more energy to keep up with their kids; and even your senior clients can all benefit from working on speed in all kinds of sports and activities. 

For your runner clients, you can dig deep and do some selective workouts and exercises to help them get faster. For other clients, sneak these workouts in to change things up and help them develop the power and strength needed to move faster and more efficiently in everything they do. 

Running Workouts to Build Speed

To be a faster runner you have to, well, run more and run faster. By pushing the limits at least once a week, your running clients will build fitness, endurance, and speed over time. There are several different kinds of speed workouts and drills you can do with them: 

Hill Sprints

Take your workout outdoors and find some hills to charge up for a great speed workout. You can use a treadmill with an adjustable incline, but going outside is much more fun. Uphill sprints at an all-out speed for 10 to 20 seconds should be followed by enough recovery time to bring the heart rate down a little. 

This can be a really intense workout, so ease your runners into it. You don’t need a very steep hill either. Start out small, do just a few reps per workout, and build on that strength with steeper inclines, more reps, and less recovery time. 

Interval Runs

Intervals runs are like HIIT workouts: you work at high intensity for a short period of time, recover, and do it again. If you have access to a track, use it for your interval speed workouts. You can adjust a basic interval workout for each client and their current fitness level: 

  • Run hard for 50 meters, walk or jog for another 50

  • Run hard for 100 meters, walk or jog for 50 meters

  • Run hard for 150 meters, walk or jog for 50 meters

  • Run hard for 200 meters, walk or job for 50 meters

  • Work back down to 50 meters and repeat once or twice for clients who are up to the challenge

Interval workouts can also include longer distances, but make sure your clients moderate their pace. The 50 to 200 meter hard runs should be at an all-out pace. For 400 meters and more, take the pace down a little. 

Learn everything you need to know about high intensity interval training and how to incorporate it into your clients’ routines with this detailed ISSA blog post


This funny-sounding word means speed play in Swedish. It’s an apt name because the double purpose of Fartlek runs is to improve speed and fitness in a fun way. The general idea is to alternate running hard and jogging, but not necessarily with any specific plan. 

So, for instance, you might run hard for two minutes, jog for one, run pretty fast for five minutes, and then jog for three minutes, and so on. Or, you can pick something in the distance, like a mailbox, and sprint for it, followed by a recovery jog.

The idea is to really switch gears a lot during a run, but in a fun, informal way. Start your clients out on Fartleks with a prescribed workout, but then let them choose how they vary their pace during these “fun runs.”

A Fartlek run is especially helpful for your endurance runners, those that do marathons. Incorporate Fartlek methods into longer runs and they will get better at recruiting different muscle fibers and coping with fatigue during long races. 

Long, Slow Runs

This may seem counterintuitive, but if your running clients aren’t doing a long run at a slower pace each week, add it to their schedule. A long run helps build aerobic capacity, which will help improve speed during shorter events. 

Aim for just one long run per week, and the length depends on the individual. It should be about 20 percent of their weekly mileage. Effort during these runs should be about 70 percent, so that you’re working hard but can still talk. 

Exercise to Improve Speed Infographic

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Strength Exercises to Improve Speed

A common mistake that runners make is to avoid strength training. Strategically building muscle mass helps runners reduce the risk of injury, recover more quickly, and of course, run faster. Here are some important strength moves for your clients to at least twice a week as they build speed: 

Glute Moves for Speed

Most people ignore their glutes, but these are the powerhouses of running. They are the muscles that keep us upright and propelling forward. Strengthen the glutes at least twice a week for speed improvement. Some good moves include: 

  • Glute bridges, adding weight to progress or doing one leg at a time

  • Clamshells to hit underserved muscles

  • Single leg squats to really focus on one side at a time

Leg Strength Exercises to Improve Speed

To run and move faster, you need your legs. Building strength in the quads, hamstrings, and other big muscle groups will improve speed over time. Aim for at least two leg strength training sessions per week that include: squats, deadlifts, and lunges. 

Sled Push

This is a tough workout, but one that will improve overall lower body strength and help your clients develop the power needed to run faster. Start out small, with less weight and shorter distances. Progress by adding weight and pushing distance and speed. 

Fast Feet for Speedy Athletic Moves

Improving speed isn’t just about running faster. For anyone, improving foot speed, agility, and reaction time is important for functional movements and athletic performance. Here are some agility and speed exercises you can use with your clients: 

Ladder Drills

Use a fitness ladder on the ground to do foot drills that improve speed and agility. You don’t even need a ladder. You can use lines on the ground or tape outside in the parking lot. Start with forward and backward hops over the lines or ladder, then move to single-leg moves and lateral movements for a greater challenge. 

High Knees

High knee drills are great for building speed and agility in food and leg movements. Think of the classic football drill of running through tires. Start your clients out with something a little easier to avoid falls and injuries, though. Use ladders for high knees and progress to low hurdles or tires. 

Dot Drills

Equally simple are dot drills, which only require tape. Tape dots or Xs on the ground and have your client move quickly from one to another in specific patterns. Give them the pattern in advance and work on speed in changing directions between each dot or X. 

Then, try doing the same types of movements but using commands rather than a pre-set pattern. Your client will have to listen and wait for your direction, responding as quickly as possible. 

You can also vary dot drills by including hand touches. Start with hops and jumps between dots and progress to jumps followed by touching down on the spot. This makes it more challenging and introduces some upper body speed and agility. 

Check out this ISSA blog post to get more ideas for speed and agility exercises. 

Speed work is as varied as any other kind of training. Whether you have a client who runs marathons and wants to get a PR at their next race, or a client who is just getting healthier, incorporating workouts that improve speed provides great benefits and will help anyone hit their goals faster. 

If you’re not a trainer yet, but you wish you were, consider getting certified online by the ISSA. Learn everything you need to know to help clients meet their goals with the ISSA Certified Personal Trainer Course

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